By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Karen Smith had high hopes for her North Arlington girls’ basketball team this season. Even though the Vikings were going to be very young, Smith figured her squad could be competitive.
Then, disaster struck in the form of some crippling injuries.
First, sophomore Samantha Veloso suffered an ankle injury that kept her on the sidelines.
Then, senior guard Bri Cunanan went down with a knee injury. Cunanan’s injury especially hurt, because she was the team’s leading scorer and ball handler. At the time of her injury, Cunanan was averaging a little more than 10 points per game.
“They were two key players,” Smith said. “It’s a little difficult. But we’re obviously optimistic because other players are going to get playing time. The younger kids are getting a chance to play. Others have to step up.”
Veloso’s timetable for a return is up in the air. Cunanan’s injury will apparently take three weeks to recover from.
So it’s time for others to shine.
Senior Cara Dlugo is one of the key performers who will have to pick up the slack. The 5-foot-7 Dlugo is someone who had been playing both small forward and power forward, but will need to include some ball handling in the absence of Cunanan.
“She’s a very good athlete,” Smith said of Dlugo. “She’s really the heart of the team. She hustles all the time. She’s our leading rebounder. We need her to score more now. I think she can do that.”
Dlugo is averaging eight points and 10 rebounds per game.
Junior center Amanda Chiamese is another key contributor. The 5-foot- 9 Chiamese is a force down low.
“She’s extremely aggressive under the basket, but she also has a nice little jump shot,” Smith said. “She’s also a good hustle player. She’s been playing pretty well.”
Junior Taylor Barth has also enjoyed some success in the past. The 5-foot-4 Barth is one of the best shooters around.
“She can shoot the lights out,” Smith said. “She now needs to handle the ball more with Bri out. I think she can handle the ball. She just needs to be confident.”
Sophomore Denaijah Gainza is another guard. The 5-foot-4 Gainza has been the backup point guard to Cunanan. “She has a nice little shot,” Smith said. “She can handle the ball and take the ball to the basket.”
Gainza had 13 points in a recent win over Lyndhurst and eight versus neighboring rival Queen of Peace.
Sophomore Marissa Piscal is a 5-foot-7 forward.
“She can be a dominant force,” Smith said of Piscal. “She’s very strong and is a great rebounder. She’s a good softball player and joined us for the first time. We’re really excited to have her with us.”
Victoria Namnama is a 5-foot-3 sophomore guard.
“She handles the ball pretty well,” Smith said. “She’s the starting point guard on our JV [junior varsity] and plays off the bench for us. She’s going to play more now.”
Freshman Danica Krawczyk is a 5-foot-7 guard/ forward.
“She can shoot the ball well, but she’s also physical,” Smith said. “That’s a good combination and a good problem to have.”
Senior Tanna Avella is a 5-foot-6 guard who is playing varsity basketball for the first time.
“She’s probably one of the fastest players we have and our best defenders,” Smith said. “She comes off the bench, but defends against the other team’s top player. That’s her role.”
Sophomore Mariah Moreno is a 5-foot-3 guard. Theresa D’Errico is also a 5-foot-3 guard.
The Vikings have not enjoyed a ton of success thus far.
“We’ve been struggling,” Smith said. “We’ve hit a few bumps in the road. But I can see this team turning around. We’re going to see the teams in our league the second time and I think that things will change. We’re showing improvement. We’re starting to play better.”
Smith likes the fact that there are so many young kids involved in her program.
“I’m excited to see what the younger kids can bring to the table,” Smith said. “I like the way our program is headed. It’s headed in the right direction. We have 15 freshmen involved in our program. The numbers look good.”
Now if Smith could only get her injured players back.